Chapter 5: Be Careful What You Wish For

young love (52)  Weak rays of morning sunlight woke Ahohako from a deep sleep. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and rubbed his eyes for a moment, recalling fragments of the strange dream he’d had. Once again, he had been swimming before his birth father, Tangaroa.

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“Your wish will be granted,” Tangaroa had said in his oddly clear, deep voice. “But once you are a human, you must leave this place. I will permit your safe passage by rowboat, but if you attempt to return to these cursed waters, then I will not guarantee your safety.”

Ahohako shook his head to clear away then dream, then rose to his feet. It was only then that he noticed – this was not his home. He turned around, taking in the unfamiliar surroundings. Had he drunk too much last night and fallen asleep in some stranger’s bed? Was he still dreaming? He reached down to pinch himself, then let out a yelp. His arms! He looked down at his torso, his legs, his feet. His smooth white skin was suddenly golden-brown, covered in fine, dark hair. And his scales – his scales were gone! What was happening to him? young love (59)

Ahohako raced to the mirror, then felt the blood drain from his head. He recognized the face staring back at him – the round, dark eyes and firm jaw. He had seen it so many times around the island, usually next to the sweet, pretty face of Puaura Timoci. His father had not transformed Ahohako from merman to human. He had placed Ahohako into the human body of another man – Ahio Kaho . boat (16)young love (61)young love (65)

But if Ahohako had become Ahio then what had happened to the real Ahio Kaho?

Earlier that morning, on the other side of the island, Ahio Kaho was in the middle of a nightmare. That is, he assumed it must be a nightmare. Instead of his comfortable bedroom, he had opened his eyes and found himself in a cold, dank, sparsely furnished cabin. As if that weren’t bizarre enough, he glanced down and saw his body. young love (132) young love (129)

“What the hell?” He lifted one leg and stared with horror at his legs, which were crusted with thick, bronze-colored scales. He had turned into a monster! He pressed the palms of his hands against his eyes, trying to force them to open in the real world. But when he looked again he was still in the strange little house, with pale white skin and those weird legs, which reminded him of someone he had once known. Ahohako Bjorkman! Of course! But why on earth was he dreaming that he was Ahohako Bjorkman? Or was this a dream?

Ahio rubbed his eyes again, concentrating on his own room, and on the beautiful face of Puaura, his bride-to-be. Today was their wedding day, and he wanted nothing more than to wake up as himself and marry the woman he loved. “Wake up!” he told himself through clenched teeth. He slapped his face. Twice. Nothing happened. “Wake up!” young love (135) young love (136)

Heart racing, Ahio ran outside the cabin. Rain drenched his long hair and streamed down his face, wet and cool and real, but still he did not awaken as himself. He did not know how or why, but for some reason, he was stuck in the body of Ahohako. Which meant that maybe they had switched places, and Ahohako now occupied the body of Ahio. And in just a few hours, half the people on the island would be gathering together to see Ahio-who-was-not-really-Ahio marry Puaura. Ahio broke into a run. He had to warn Puaura!

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He arrived, panting, at the door of Puaura’s houseboat. When she emerged, he caught his breath. She looked so lovely – dove-white dress against mocha skin, and tiny red flowers adorning her head like a crown.

She frowned. “It’s Ahohako, right? What are you doing here?”

“Puaura, it’s me.” Ahio reached forward to place his hands on her shoulders. “Please. You have to believe me. Something weird has happened. I’m not Ahohako. I’m Ahio. Your Ahio.” His voice pleaded with her to believe him. Island Wedding (30) Island Wedding (25)

Puaura stepped away, her eyes alarmed. “What’s wrong with you?” she said, shaking her head. “This isn’t funny, Ahohako.”

“I’m not Ahohako! You have to believe me, baby – It’s me. It’s Ahio!”

“Stop.”

“You can’t marry him. Okay? Don’t do it.”

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“Stop! I’m calling the police.” Puaura turned away and hurried inside. Ahio fled before the police could arrive, his eyes filling with tears. Puaura was going to marry an imposter. She would be lost to him forever unless he could find a way to stop the wedding. He ran inland, and up the hills toward his house – the house where the real him lived, then banged on the front door until the Imposter Ahio opened up.

“You!” Ahio’s rage boiled over. “You are behind this, Ahohako! What did you do?” Island Wedding (36)

Imposter Ahio’s face filled with fear. “I don’t know,” he whispered.

Ahio had not expected this. “You must know! People don’t just wake up inside other people’s bodies!” he said, throwing his hands in the air. “You have to fix this. I am supposed to marry Puaura this afternoon. I can’t marry her looking like you!”

Ahohako looked dazed. “But…but I can’t. It was not my doing, I swear. It was Tangaroa.”

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Ahio opened his mouth to retort, but suddenly, his throat began to swell. “Can’t…breathe…” He clutched at his throat, eyes gaping at Ahohako. “What’s…happening to me?”

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Ahohako looked at him sadly. “I’m sorry, Ahio,” he said. “I am – I mean, you are a siren. A merman. The only way for you to survive is the sea.”

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Ahio’s lips turned blue as he struggled for air. “Wed—wedding. P-Puaura,” he gasped.

“Go! You must go to the sea, or you will die!” said Ahohako. With one last wide-eyed look at the man who had stolen his body, Ahio turned and ran toward the ocean as fast as his scaly legs could go.

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Chapter 4: Papaya and Coconut

Matahina teens (17)Matahina teens (27) Ahio Kaho came from one of the oldest families on Matahina Island. He was just a boy with a warm caramel smile, who had a dozen friends and liked to play the drums. And when Puaura was seventeen years old, she fell in love with him.

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Puaura and Ahio were the perfect couple. Everyone said so. They laughed at the same jokes. They both loved ice cream but hated cake. And most importantly, they both spent most of their waking hours in the sea. Ahio even knew how to scuba dive, so the two of them often went on undersea expeditions together, hunting for treasure. Though for some reason, Puaura could never bring herself to explain that what she sought was no ordinary treasure, but the mythical treasure of Rongo. young love (35) young love (22) young love (30)

She felt like a different person when she was with Ahio. She did not feel the heavy weight of losing her father. With Ahio, everything was speed and light. Motors instead of sails. Light, lorikeet happiness that flitted from beach to beach. She could never stay melancholy for more than two minutes in his presence.

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“They are so in love,” said the people of the islands, wrinkled brown hands cupped to whisper, dark, knowing eyes twinkling as the couple strolled past, hand-in-hand. “They belong together like papaya and coconut.” And Puaura, her heart lighter than it had felt in many years, believed it, too.

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And so, when the day came that Ahio at last proposed marriage, Puaura happily said yes.

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Chapter 3: Ahohako’s Wish

Ahohako Bjorkman was not like the other kids on Matahina Island. He was oddly pale and blond compared to the other islanders, thanks to his parents’ Scandinavian lineage. But that was not all. Ahohako had a deep, dark secret, which only his parents knew.

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“You don’t have to tell anyone,” his parents assured him. “No one has to find out what you really are.”

“But they all make fun of my legs,” said Ahohako, whose legs were covered with an odd, scaly pattern.

“Just tell them that it’s a rare skin condition,” said his mother. “Like psoriasis.”

So he did. But still, Ahohako never managed to fit in with the other kids at school. While the rest of them flocked to parties and basketball games, he was often perched on some lonely bench, reading Kafka and Steinbeck and Poe and desperately wishing that he could be someone else. Anyone but him.

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Every so often, one of his classmates would notice him and, perhaps in a rush of pity, invite him to come along and grab some pizza with the rest of the group. But Ahohako always declined. He never quite knew when an attack would come over him, and was afraid that it would happen while he was around other people. Without warning, his skin would begin to prickle and burn, and he would have the horrible sensation of being cooked by the sun. Within moments, he would begin to shudder and gasp.

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There was only one remedy.

Still gasping and wheezing like an asthmatic, Ahohako would begin to run in the direction of the sea. Without hesitation, he would discard his clothes and dive into the waves.

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The cool, salty water enveloped him, soothing the dry, burning skin and letting him breathe through the tiny gills that opened up along the sides of his neck. He glided through the water, feeling his human legs melt away, replaced by a strong bronze-colored tail that thumped against the water and propelled him forward. This was who he was.

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“It is a curse,” his mother had told him ten years before, when he had transformed for the first time. “It is a punishment from the gods for my misdeeds.” Ahohako had not known what his mother meant. But in time, he came to understand the truth; that his father was not his real father. His mother had had an affair with a mysterious and strangely pale man seventeen years ago. A man who claimed to have come from a home deep in the ocean, though his mother had laughed in disbelief.

But what if he was telling the truth? Ahohako wondered. What if his real father was a merman, just like him? One day, he decided to find out for himself. He dove down toward his favorite thinking spot – a grotto of kelp, which flowed with the current like trees blown by the wind.

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Then he stopped, lifted his head, closed his eyes, and called out as loudly as he could, “Father!” Nothing happened. He tried again. “Dad?”

There was a great rush of bubbles around him, then suddenly, a man appeared. He did not have a tail like Ahohako, but human legs and bluish-white skin. “My son,” the man spoke with a voice that was deep and strangely clear for being underwater. “I have always wondered when you would summon me.”

“Dad?” Ahohako stared, unable to believe his eyes. “You’re real!”

His dad chuckled. “Of course I am real. Now tell me…what do you wish?”

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“What do you mean, wish?”

“Your rite-of-passage wish, of course,” his father looked surprised. “A son of the sea gets to make one wish before he reaches manhood. Your mother never told you?”

Ahohako shook his head. His mother had never explained anything to him about his real father.

“Well then, tell me what it is you wish more than anything else.”

Years of isolation, taunting, and secrets came rushing to his mind. There was only one thing that could make his life better. “I wish…that I could be a human instead of a merman.” The moment the words were out, his face burned with shame. Here he was, telling his father, a merman, that he no longer wanted to be a merman.

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“It is a common wish,” his father said calmly. “Then my son, the day that you turn twenty-one years old, you will be a human man, with human legs. But when that happens, you must never return to the sea. Do you understand?”

Ahohako nodded. “Thank you.”

“Now I must leave you.” His father turned to go.

“Wait!” said Ahohako. “Who are you? What is your name?”

His father smiled, his teeth glowing white like oyster pearls. “My name,” he said, “is Tangaroa.” And in a rush a bubbles, he was gone.

Chapter 2: Defying Tangaroa

sea girl (11) After, the sea was no longer the same to Puaura. No longer did it seem warm and gentle, like a playmate. Now, the water was like a stranger, filled with dark mysteries; a deep, shadowy tomb that hid Death beneath a calm blue mask.  sea girl (15) sea girl (14)

After, her mother had to work twice as hard to put food on the table, cleaning the homes of the wealthy and waiting tables at The Blue Lagoon Cafe. Her eyes were often streaked red from lack of rest, and she began to develop sick headaches, which worried Puaura.

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“Just think,” she would tell her mother, “one day, you and I will open an inn on the beach. And people will come from far away just to stay there. And there will be music and dancing, and good food, and everyone will be happy.” The idea had begun as a way to cheer up her mother on the hard days. But somehow, the dream had begun to grow – a tiny seed of possibility, which gave them both something to look forward to in the future.sea girl (8)

After, Puaura was different, too. She did everything that a good girl was supposed to do. She went to school each day, studied, and acted like a normal teenage girl. sea girl (10)

But in her free time, she spent hours in solitude, no longer playing and laughing with the sea, but facing it head-on, like a warrior. Puaura vs. the Ocean. She wrestled with the waves, dodging and cutting through the surf. sea girl (9)

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And, like her father had done in his last moments of life, Puaura strapped on scuba gear and defiantly dove into the bowels of the sea, in search of Rongo’s treasure. sea girl (4) sea girl (5)

The sea was not her friend, but she would not hide from it. Tangaroa had stolen her father from her. But he would not steal her spirit.

Chapter 1: Before and After

Before After P (8) Before After P (2)  Puaura Timoci loved the sea, and the sea loved her. From the moment the morning rays of sunlight kissed her eyelids open to the moment when the pale light of the moon gently pressed them shut again, Puaura’s life was all blue waves and blue skies that stretched and stretched to the ends of the world.

She lived with her mama and papa, who loved the sea, too. The three of them lived on a large houseboat, which moved and rocked to the gentle sway of the ocean. Puaura’s papa was a diver and a fisherman, and often took her with him on his sailboat. Then he would cast his line while Puaura paddled around in the water, searching for seahorses and colorful fish, which tickled her feet as they swam by. Before After P (1)Before After P (4)

When her mother returned from her work as a housekeeper, Puaura would happily fill her in on her sea excursions with papa. “I think I saw Pahuanui today!” she would cry out in excitement, then spend the next ten minutes or so describing the fantastic creature she was sure she had seen. Her mother’s dark eyes were tired, but she always smiled and listened to Puaura’s stories. Before After P (5) Before After P (3)

“Maybe one day, Papa will capture old Pahuanui,” said mama, “so that visitors will come to the island again.” Before After P (9)

It was perfect in those days. At least, that was how Puaura remembered it. Those were the before days. The days when Papa used to go diving in the depths of the sea, hoping to find the great treasure of Rongo. “My mamau used to say that the treasure of Rongo is the key to easing Tangaroa’s anger,” said papa. Before After P (10) Before After P (11)

“But how will you know what Rongo’s treasure looks like?” asked Puaura, her eyes round with wonder.

Papa’s grinned. He pulled Puaura into his strong arms, and she inhaled his scent of salty air and the coconut oil he rubbed into his hair to make it shine. “Mamau said that when you find the treasure, you will know. You will feel it deep inside you, like a heartbeat.”

That was before. And then one day, thick, dark clouds blocked out the sky and turned the ocean choppy and gray. The palm trees lining the beach bowed toward the ground under the weight of heavy rains and wind.

Mama was pacing around the houseboat, wringing her hands together and fretting. “Papa hasn’t returned from his diving,” she said. “He took the boat out early this morning, but he has not come home.” Before After P (6)

Before her mother could stop her, Puaura ran outside into the storm. She stood on the shore, facing the dark waters, which churned and frothed like the jaws of a wild beast. “Papa!” she cried into the wind, the rain drenching her cheeks like tears. “Papa-aaa!” Before After P (13)

But Papa never returned. And for Puaura, the rest of her life was the after days.

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Welcome to Matahina Island

Beginning Matahina Island (16)    It wasn’t that Matahina was not a beautiful place. It was, in fact, one of the loveliest island chains in the South Pacific. The waters surrounding the islands sparkled a clear, warm blue. The land was all lush green hills and glistening white beaches – any tourist’s paradise.

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However, the tourists did not come. The white beaches lay empty, crystal blue waves pounding the lonely shores. The only people to enjoy the breathtaking vistas of the Matahina Islands were the residents, who, luckily, had discovered other ways to bring money to the island, thanks to the convenience of the internet. Still, they longed for the rest of the world to see for themselves just how special their home was. Beginning Matahina Island (7)Beginning Matahina Island (3)

“It is because of the wrath of Tangaroa,” the old ones whispered to the children of Matahina as they tucked them into bed at night. “Our people displeased the great Tangaroa by taking too much from these waters – great amounts of fish which went to waste and depleted the schools. And so Tangaroa cursed our land. He took away the fish and caused visitors to be smashed against the rocks and drown. Now their spirits forever haunt the islands.”

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Of course, most of the island people did not believe this myth. Nor did they believe the myth about the mysterious sea people who lived beneath the waves, nor the myth about Pahuanui, the great sea monster placed by Tangaroa to keep outsiders from reaching the island. They were only stories to entertain people around beach bonfires, or to make unruly children settle down and go to sleep. Weren’t they?

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